Carb(on) Loading our Soil

You may have heard the term ‘carbon farming’ being used, but what exactly is it, and what does it mean for you?

Carbon Farming is basically farming in a way that captures and holds carbon in vegetation and soils. The term summarises changing agricultural practices that increase the carbon sequestered in soil and vegetation and decrease atmospheric carbon. There are several ways to achieve this, and as with most things, there is no silver bullet solution that will work for every farm enterprise.

Carbon is not a static element; it exists within a carbon cycle. A typical farming business will increase carbon stores at certain times of year (i.e. while crops are growing) and release it at others (stubble breakdown after harvest). Carbon Farming aims to increase the carbon stored in the system and identify ways to slow down the system’s carbon cycle rate, storing it for a greater length of time.

There are many ways that this can be done. For example, increasing perennial vegetation in the farming system through shrub-based forages or planting shelterbelts. Another option for some landholders may be growing an opportunistic summer crop that extends the number of months of living roots in the soil.

Carbon Farming can help manage land, water, plants and animals, improve ecosystem resilience and address landscape restoration challenges like climate change and food security.

There are more significant benefits to increasing carbon in the soil and vegetation than greenhouse gas storage and avoidance. Increasing carbon in the ground, namely increasing soil organic carbon (a measurable component of soil organic matter), can increase soil growing potential. Organic matter –including soil organic carbon – positively contributes to nutrient retention and turnover, soil structure, moisture retention and availability, degradation of pollutants, and carbon sequestration. Organic matter plays an essential role in soils’ physical, chemical and biological function.

Carbon Farming offers landholders an opportunity to receive financial incentives for reducing their carbon pollution. However, Carbon Farming activities should also deliver multiple economic and environmental co-benefits. In November 2020, the State Government released a new WA Climate Policy. A key element of this policy is a $15 million Carbon Farming and Land Restoration Program.  One of the program’s key objectives is to unlock the potential for Carbon Farming activities across the South West agricultural zone. Further, the program will look to support rural businesses to establish Carbon Farming projects that deliver priority environmental, community and economic co-benefits.

( For further information and program developments keep an eye on this page:  https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/carbon-farming/western-australian-carbon-farming-and-land-restoration-program )

There is an opportunity to improve soil organic carbon in the Northern Agricultural Region. NACC NRM’s Growing Great Ground (funded by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program) project offers incentives for establishing ground covers that may increase organic matter in our soils. We also have an upcoming Soil Carbon Roadshow, under the same funding, which will provide information on building and managing carbon on-farm. Come along and learn how-to integrate Carbon Farming on your property, why its important, the benefits, constraints and what is next in this space!

If you are interested in carbon farming, soil organic carbon or ways to increase carbon in your soil, please contact NACC NRM’s Sustainable Agriculture team by contacting Annabelle.garratt@nacc.com.au or lizzie.king@nacc.com.au or by calling us on (08) 9938 0100.

Annabelle Garratt & Lizzie King – Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitators

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